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Immersion and presence
Daniel Mestre and Jean-LouisVercher
Virtual reality, in essence, is an ambiguous concept. It is difficult to fully distinguish
between what comes under technology (virtual reality as a set of computer, mechanical,
electronic, etc. tools) and what comes under experience (virtual reality as a subjective
construction). The concepts of immersion and presence, defined in different ways by
different authors, are a sign of this ambiguity. Here, we will try to contribute to
a clarification regarding this objective/subjective duality. We propose that immersion
should be reserved for the description of the objective characteristics of a virtual reality
device, and that presence should be described as the effect that this immersion produces
on the behaviour of the subject.
In this regard, the works of Hoffman et al. (2004) suggest that immersion of a
patient in a virtual reality system (interactive) makes it possible to shift the attention
of the subject from the real world to the virtual world. It is this complex and psycho-
logical shifting of the focus of attention that we can call presence (Waterworth et al.,
2001). We can thus work on the assumption that the immersive character of a virtual
world is an objective description of the properties of this world. The “immersivity''
of the virtual world is what the engineer or the researcher has put here (even if some
selections are based more on intuition than on control, and are based on the sensory
and motor abilities of the user in all the cases). However, the concept of presence is
not only a subjective concept, psychological in essence, but is, above all, related to
both worlds (the real world and the virtual world). Presence is a bistable psychological
phenomenon related to the feeling of the subject of being in the real and/or virtual
world. In the example mentioned above, we consider the benefit of trying to better
understand this feeling, if not to control it. In this regard, Hoffman notes that his team
could demonstrate correlations between the feeling of being in the virtual world (which
presents the problem of evaluating presence, we will come back to it) and reduction
of pain in patients.
Here, we are thus going to present these two complementary concepts - immersion
and presence, the means to evaluate them and their relationship with the performance
and behaviour of the subject in a virtual environment. Slater (2003) gives a simplistic
but easy distinction between these two concepts. This author defines immersion as the
capabilities of the system to isolate the user from the real world, and provide rich, multi-
sensory and coherent information (also see Slater & Wilbur, 1997). He also observes
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